Friday, 5 June 2020

From Palermo to Taormina in 8 days

Day 1-2 Palermo ("Architectural masterpieces & amazing food")

The first day was relatively short: upon arrival, we’ve rented a car and got to our Airbnb accommodation Le Cupole Decò (28 Via Napoli - 5 piano, 90133 Palermo). Below is the view from our window - breathtakingly beautiful!
It was liberating not to have plans other than grabbing dinner - and for that, we spontaneously chose a random lovely rustic place with a live female singer - her and the really friendly host ensured a magical welcome to a town that we didn’t yet know, but have instantly fallen in love with.
We finished the night by grabbing a drink at Nautoscopio (Piazzetta Capitaneria di Porto, 90133), listening to the waves crash and laying on the cool comfy couches on the beach, gazing at the stars.
The next morning, we were ready for some sightseeing action and started our day with breakfast on the marvellous ‘Piazza di San Domenico’.
The first stop of the day was ‘Oratorio di Santa Cita’ – it’s a cute little church which is mainly known for Giacomo Serpotta’s intricate stucco-work, but being a crime geek, I was there to see the reproduction of “Nativity with St. Francis & St. Lawrence’ by Caravaggio, the original of which was stolen from the oratory in 1969 (& until today tops FBI’s unsolved crimes of the past century!!!).
Our ‘church tour’ continued by climbing to the roof of ‘Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria’) and checking out the splendid 12th-century mosaics in the nearby church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio (aka ‘La Martorana’).
After that, we continued to one of the highlights of the day: Piazza Pretoria - undoubtedly Palermo’s cheekiest (pardon the pun but SEE PICTURES below) landmarks. Nymphs, tritons and leaping river gods - such flagrant nudity proved a bit much for Sicilian churchgoers, who prudishly dubbed it the Fontana della Vergogna (‘Fountain of Shame’).
We passed by the elegant intersection of the most ancient street in Palermo, Corso Vittorio Emanuele (aka Cassaro ([Càssaru]) & Via Maqueda / Piazza Vigliena (aka Quattro Canti aka Piazza Vigliena). It's quite a remarkable place as each facade lights up in turn throughout the course of the day, landing it the nickname Il Teatro del Sole (Theatre of the Sun). Cassaro is a great place for street food, so we stopped by to experience some gastronomic delights (swordfish 🐠 & aubergine arancini (typical Sicilian food: deep-fried stuffed rice balls which are coated with bread crumbs) in the simple rustic setting of “Bisso Bistrot” (Via Maqueda, 172A, 90134 Palermo).
Having replenished our dwindling energy supplies, we were ready to marvel at the mesmerising Arabic-influenced muqarnas (honeycomb-style vaulted ceiling) at the Cattedrale di Palermo. After seeing the dazzling gilded wall mosaics, we mastered the 110 steps leading up to the roof and were rewarded by breath-taking views of the city.
I don’t know how after this we still had the enthusiasm for Palazzo Reale & Cappella Palatina, both of which were full of Byzantine mosaics & Arabic marble-work.
Next stop was the neo-classical Teatro Massimo - with its neo-classical exteriors and art-nouveau interiors. Renowned for its excellent acoustics, it’s one of the largest opera houses in Europe with over 1,300 seats and hosts more than 130 music, opera and dance events every year.
Apparently, a cool thing to do there in Teatro Massimo is a 30-minute guided tour, but as Julia and I were on a whistle-stop tour that day, we had to console ourselves with taking a selfie at the grand staircase before heading to Market Ballaro to grab a beer. If you are feeling peckish, Mercato Ballaro is a great place to get chickpea fritters.
After a refreshing beer among (not-so-slightly) tipsy locals, it was time to wind down for the day, so we dropped by Francu U Vastiddaru (Via Vittorio Emanuele, 102, 90133 Palermo) on the way to our hotel to have a street food extravaganza dinner of "pane e panelle” (chickpea fritter with crocchè & aubergine - popular street food in Palermo) combined with a selection of Sicilian salads (who knew that oranges and sardines go well together?!)
While in Palermo, it’s important to make sure you eat street food, so another alternative place for that is KePalle (Via Maqueda, 270, 90133) or KePalle - Arancine d’Autore (Via E. Amari, 154, 90139).

Day 3: Erice + Saline di Trapani

For a perfect day around those parts, make sure you:
Wander around Castello di Venere in Erice (“Western Sicily’s prettiest hilltop village”) and take in the fairy-tale coastal views.
Fill up on the traditional green cassata cake & frutta martorana (marzipan fruit) from Sicily’s most famous pastry shop: Maria Grammatico at the panoramic terrace of Càffe Maria.
Stay hydrated with granita (traditionally with lemon 🍋, but if you have a sweet tooth - try pomegranate, too!)
Make sure to take in the marvellous changing landscapes of Saline di Trapani (salt ponds & planes, dotted with windmills & Phoenician ruins).

Day 4 - Agriturismo Duca di San Martino à Temples in Agrigento

Explore Sicily’s finest collection of temples at “Valle dei Templi” in Agrigento

Watch sunset @ the Scala dei Turchi (‘Stair of the Turks’)
Accommodation: B&B "5 Elementi" (Via deglie abeti, 7, 92014 Porto Empedocle) - really nice modern B&B, with an excellent outdoor pool.
An excellent simple & rustic seafood restaurant in the neighbourhood - L'Albero (SS115ter, 115, 92014 Porto Empedocle)

Day 5 – Ragusa, Modica & Noto

See stunning views of Ragusa’s lower town from Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Scale (Church of St Mary of the Stairs)
Snack on arancini with artichoke and white wine flavoured ice cream (someone must have heard my prayers!) in the old town of Ragusa
Modica - marvel at the terracotta rooftops in the chocolate graceful hill town of this baroque town.
  • Duomo di San Giorgio (Cathedral of San Giorgio) – Gagliardi’s three-tiered 18th-century beauty of a façade is well worth the 250-step climb from lower Modica
  • Try delizia al pistachio (possibly the world’s tastiest pistachio dessert, with an exquisite mix of the creaminess and granular crunch) @ Pasticceria Cappello
  • Caffè Adamo – eat gelato made by maestro Antonion Adamo from freshest seasonal ingredient
  • Xocoatl chocolate @ Antica Dolceria Bonajuto.

Day 6 - Noto à Villagonia à Taormina

Noto - sleep in a real baroque palazzo in this graceful hill town (Accommodation: Alexander Art Noveau Suites - Via Napoli, 2, 96017 Noto).
Enjoy an unforgettable dinner at the outdoor sitting of Trattoria al buco (Via Zanardelli, 1, 96017 Noto) - if you have to wait for the table, they'll give you a glass of wine and you can sit & wait on the steps of the beautiful Church of St. Francis of Assisi 'all'Immacolata' (Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi all’Immacolata).
Check out Cattedrale di Noto (Noto Cathedral) – one of Sicily’s baroque masterpieces

  • Brioscia Siciliana & Almond Granita – Sicilian breakfast – eat in Catania
  • Granita, a semi-frozen, flavoured mixture similar to sorbet. It’s a Sicilian creation that pre-dates the Romans and can be traced back to the Arab rule of Sicily. Originally it was made by mixing the snow from Mt. Etna with fruit juice or sometimes rosewater. Eventually, it was discovered that mixing sea salt with the snow created a refrigerant with which the granita could be frozen; this allowed the snow to be removed as an actual ingredient and the recipe changed to its current one.
  • Brescia is a yeasty sweet bread made with eggs and milk and is somewhat similar to a croissant.
  • Pasta alla Norma - one of the most well-known Italian pasta dishes. It is typical of the Sicilian cuisine created originally in Catania. The original recipe is made with macaroni, tomatoes, fried aubergines, grated ricotta salata cheese, and basil.
  • Cannoli - a staple of Sicilian cuisine, it consists of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy filling usually containing ricotta. Note: They are meant to be eaten with fingers, not a knife and fork!

Day 7 – The wedding in Taormina

Accommodation: AirBnB ‘Casa Blu’ (via Madonna Delle Grazie, 16, 98039 Villagonia) - my favourite feature of the place was the beach just across the street - perfect for a morning HIIT session 👍
Teatro Greco Taormina
Don't forget to feast on seafood at Osteria Santa Domenica (Via di Giovanni 47-49, 98039 Taormina)
Cocktail party @ UNAHOTELS Capotaormina (Via Nazionale, 105, 98039 Taormina) - the fairytale-like locations for Olga & Patrick’s wedding
The Wedding Ceremony @ Villa Mon Repos (Via Luigi Pirandello 72, 98139 Taormina)

Day 8 - Gambino Winery

Wine tasting & brunch @ Gambino Winery (Contrada Petto Dragone, 95015 Linguaglossa) – beautiful winery located on the slopes of the Mount Etna